The Biggest Fall Risk May Surprise You

If you had to guess the most common cause of falls in adults, you’d probably guess wrong.  Take a try. What do you think it is?

Here’s the correct answer—it’s the way we walk.

The surprising conclusion from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) is that our personal gait (walking style) and balance issues are the number one reason for falls in adults.  How we walk causes more trouble than ice, stairs, bathtub slips, or anything else.

The BLSA project has been operating since 1958. It is the oldest and largest study on aging in America, and it’s spawned hundreds of reports and mountains of data. One particular study from it was a uniquely intense and detailed look at falling.

This data set covered the experiences of 757 men and 740 women aged 20 to 92 over a 7-year period. Researchers divided the group into young, middle aged, and older cohorts to get a better picture of how aging impacted our ability to stay on our feet.

Walk Carefully

Regardless of their age, the activity people were most likely to be engaged in right before a fall was walking. Walking led to more tripping and falling accidents than running, playing sports, climbing stairs,  transferring (as in getting out of bed) or any other cause. For the oldest group, walking preceded 56% of falls. Even for the young group it accounted for nearly a third of falls.

Doctors have a diagnosis called “senile gait disorder” to describe what they see in some of their older patients. This suggests that aging is problematic, but that is not true.  In a different study, researchers found that among seniors 88 or older, 20% never developed gait troubles.

The relationship to aging and poor gait is that older people have had more time to pile up more bad habits that lead to falls. These include a lack of exercise, inattention, depression, bad posture, cognitive impairment, muscle weakness, arthritis, and several other chronic diseases that may co-occur with aging. [i]

One of the most noticeable gait problems that co-occurs with older people whose muscles are weaker is taking shorter and shorter steps. Short strides are strongly predictive of future falls. This illustration shows why:

During a normal stride—which is two steps—you only have your weight on both legs during the Double Support phases. That’s about a third of the time. Otherwise, you are balanced on either your left or your right foot, and you are less stable. So, when you take smaller steps, you are more frequently in these unstable portions of your stride.

[Image 2]


Balance Comes First

Good gait requires good balance. This is one reason that doing tai chi is so helpful for people. An analaysis published in 2020 that summed up findings on 14 previous studies found that practicing tai chi reduces falls by 31% among older adults.

Improving your ability to stay balanced while your body is in motion depends on strengthening and stabilizing core, hip, leg and foot muscles. It’s a complex task, staying upright, but exercises for balance are easy to do at home.

One of the most effective ones is a one-legged stand. Simply stand up, and then raise one knee  in front of you so that all your weight is on the other foot. See how long you can stay upright. Your goal—eventually—is to reach one minute. But at first you may think 10 seconds is a win.  If you want an even tougher test, try staying balanced with your eyes closed.

Do this with each leg several times a day. Waiting for the  breakfast coffee to drip? Balance on one leg. Standing in line at the grocery store? You can sneak in a little practice here, too.

Easy Exercises that Can Keep You on Your Feet

Gait is complicated to assess. If you are not walking efficiently, you should ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist for help. 

Meanwhile, there are some good exercises that are suitable for anyone and especially useful if you are prone to tripping.

Tripping frequently probably means that you have weak extensor muscles in your foot.

[Image 3]This happens easily. Most people could not point to their foot extensor muscles on a dare. You certainly don’t think about them. But they can get weak. And when they do, you don’t flex your foot properly and trip more often.

Try these two exercises:

Little Toe Lifts: 

1. Stand comfortably with both feet flat on the floor.

  1. Keep your big toes down and your foot still. Don’t allow it to turn as you move.

  1. While your big toes remain on the floor, raise all four other toes. Repeat 10 times or more.

Little Toe Lift Benefits:

  • Strengthens extensor muscles in the foot
  • Improves ability to walk on uneven ground
  • If difficult to perform, a good sign to get a medical checkup

Big Toe Lifts

The opposite of the exercise you just did.

  1. Stand comfortably and keep all your little toes on the floor while you raise your big toes.
  2. Repeat 10X or more.

Big Toe Lift Benefits:

  • Strengthens extensor muscles in the foot
  • Improves ability to walk on uneven ground
  • If difficult to perform, a good sign to get a medical checkup

Gait Problems and Hip Flexibility

Tight hip muscles or pain causes people to restrict free movement. They also cause low back pain, which affects gait as well.

This is a condition you may need to take to your doctor. That’s especially the case if there is disease like rheumatism involved. There are medical strategies that can help greatly.

But there are some hip stretching exercise that can help hugely for mild cases of hip tightness.

Hip Thrust Circles

[Image 4]Do these every morning to get your day going. Circles help loosen hips, which often tighten while you sleep. They also make you feel more fluid and alert to begin the day. Hip circles are often used in Qi Gong warm-ups for Tai Chi.

Stand with feet wide apart

Place hands on hips. Gently rotate hips clockwise, pushing hips forward, then sideways and back around your trunk.

Repeat 5 X

Reverse and rotate hips counter clockwise 5X


Want to know more and about slips, trips and falls? Plus some additional hip-freeing exercises? You can read the free report we wrote for you. Just go to the link at the bottom of this Natural Health News Report page. 





[i]Bloem BR, Haan J, Lagaay AM, van Beek W, Wintzen AR, Roos RA. Investigation of gait in elderly subjects over 88 years of age. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 1992 Apr-Jun;5(2):78-84. doi: 10.1177/002383099200500204. PMID: 1590914.



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